Sports can tie up your heart more than a redhead—just ask Red Sox or Cubbie fans. You give a team your love, wait expectantly for their re-emergence from the offseason, and rejoice as your love triumphs all season long. But beware; you can be crushed at the altar, right Patriots fans?
The cruelest blow I have seen, the biggest disappointment I can remember in sports, came to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1985 World Series.
Game Six was in the bottom of the ninth, with the Cards ahead 1-0, leading the series 3-2. Ace reliever Todd Worrell came in. Three more outs and the champagne corks are popping in K.C. for the Redbirds!
Jose Orta grounded towards first baseman Jack Clark, who tossed in time to Worrell. After a slight pause, the umpire, Don Denkinger, called Orta safe. Television replays showed Orta was clearly out by a step.
The Royals worked miracles that year with a young pitching staff. They had already devastated the Toronto Blue Jays by coming back from a 3-1 deficit. Kansas City had put the corks on hold two nights before in St. Louis, when Danny Jackson had thrown a complete game, allowing only one run. Chances were slim even now.
While Denkinger is still a four-letter word in St. Louis, the Cardinals fell apart.
Clark and Darrell Porter, the catcher, misplayed a foul ball off the bat of Steve Balboni. The reprieve allowed Balboni to single. A sacrifice bunt attempt by Jim Sundberg was turned into a forceout at third.
But, Porter then allowed a passed ball, advancing the runners. Hal McRae was intentionally walked. Little known Dane Iorg looped a single to right field, scoring pinch runner Onix Conception. Sundberg rumbled around third. Andy Van Slyke’s throw was on line, but Porter was too late with the tag. Royals 2-1! The home crowd erupted.
The Cards mustered their best, but seemed to have no heart left for the seventh game. K.C. was rejuvenated before hometown fans.
Brett Saberhagen, who had allowed the Cards only one run in the third game, had become a father the night before. In celebration, Saberhagen was masterful, throwing a five-hit shutout.
The Royals took apart St. Louis’s ace, John Tudor, and six other pitchers, enroute to an 11-0. Kansas City became the only team to ever come from 3-1 deficits twice in the postseason.
Cardinal fans remember it only as “The Call”, which was picked by ESPN staff as the worst call in sports history. St. Louis would wait for twenty-one more years for the title. Only a World Series win in 2006 could wash away the memory of such a crushing disappointment at the altar.